How Cyberbullying Impacts Students

Just as the use of technology itself has evolved, so has the ability to bully. Bullying, once restricted to the school or neighborhood, has now moved into the online world. Bullying through electronic means is referred to as “cyberbullying.”

As adults, thinking back, it was just a generation ago that kids and teens were asking their parents for a phone in their room — maybe even one with a separate line or three-way calling — so they could easily and somewhat privately connect with more friends.

Today, a kid or teen’s desire to connect with friends has not changed, but the options for doing so have grown tremendously. Children are not only asking for their own tablets, gaming devices, and mobile phones at a younger age, they also want access to popular social media sites, and the ability to engage in online games and share information.

Just as young people used to spend unmonitored time playing with friends in the neighborhood, outside the periphery of adults, they are now engaging with each other in the cyberworld, “talking” with each other, “talking” to each other, and “talking” about each other, often without adult or parental monitoring. While technology allows young people to connect in meaningful ways, such as the opportunity to share ideas, photos, videos, and more, the unsupervised nature of the cyberworld demands the need for guidance, guidelines, and social responsibility.

Cyberbullying: What Makes it Unique | PACERTalks About Bullying, Episode 13

The dynamics of using technology to hurt, harm or humiliate another individual or group are examined in this video.

What to Know About Cyberbullying?

Definition of Cyberbullying

While the definitions of cyberbullying, sometimes called online bullying, vary from source to source, most definitions consist of:

  1. electronic forms of contact
  2. an aggressive act
  3. intent
  4. repetition
  5. harm to the target (Hutson, 2016 )

The technology, accessed through computers or cell phones, used to cyberbully includes:

  • personal websites
  • blogs
  • e-mail
  • texting
  • social networking sites
  • chat rooms
  • message boards
  • instant messaging
  • photographs
  • video games (Feinberg & Robey, 2009)

Other helpful definitions include:

  • Cyberbullying is defined as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices” (Hinduja & Patchin, 2015 ).
  • Cyberbullying occurs “when someone repeatedly makes fun of another person online or repeatedly picks on another person through e-mail or text message or when someone posts something online about another person that they don’t like” (Cyberbullying Research Center, 2016 ).
  • Cyberbullying is intentional and repeated harm inflicted on others through the use of electronic devices (Cyberbullying Research Center, 2016 ).
  • Cyberbullying is as an aggressive, intentional act distributed by an individual or group, using contact in an electronic medium, continuously and relentlessly against someone who cannot stand up for himself or herself easily (Smith et al., 2008 ).

Unique characteristics of cyberbullying

Recently a student shared “that all bullying hurts, whether in person or through technology, the end result is that bullying in any form is emotionally damaging.”
Contrasting offline bullying with online bullying:

  1. targets might not know who the bully is or why they are being targeted, as cyberbullying can happen anonymously.
  2. cyberbullying can have a large audience - the actions of those who cyberbully can go viral;
  3. it is often easier to be cruel using technology because of greater physical distance and the person bullying doesn’t see the immediate response by the target - they might not recognize the serious harm from their actions because they lack seeing the target’s response; and
  4. it can be harder for parents and adults to manage cyberbullying (Hinduja & Patchin, 2014 ).

Rates of Incidence for Cyberbullying

  • Rates of cyberbullying victimization range from 5% to 74% (Hamm, Newton, & Chisholm, 2015 ).
  • 15.5% of high school students and 24% of middle school students were cyberbullied in 2015 (Center for Disease Control, 2015 ).
  • The percentages of individuals who have experienced cyberbullying at some point in their lifetimes have nearly doubled (18% to 34%) from 2007-2016 (Patchin & Hinduja, 2016).
  • Boys are more likely to be cyberbully perpetrators and girls are more likely to be cyberbully targets (Hamm, Newton, & Chisholm, 2015).

What Kids Want Parents to Know About Cyberbullying | PACERTalks About Bullying: Season 2, Episode 17

Middle school students provide insight about their online experiences, and share what they want their parents to know about cyberbullying.

How Cyberbullying Impacts Students

  • Those who are cyberbullied are also likely to be bullied offline (Hamm, Newton, & Chisholm, 2015 ).
  • Cyberbullying can result in serious emotional problems for targets, including anxiety, low self-esteem, depression (Hinduja & Patchin, 2015 ), stress, and suicide ideation, (Kowalski, Giumetti, Schroeder, & Lattanner, 2014 ).
  • Those who are cyberbullied can feel more uncontrollability than those facing traditional bullying, because they have less control over who views the bullying and less ability to make the bullying stop. There can also be more permanence with cyberbullying compared to traditional bullying: nearly everything on the Internet is available to everyone, everywhere. It can be challenging to erase information once it goes on the Internet (Pearson, Andersson, & Porath, 2005 ).
  • Those who cyberbully are more likely to have anxiety, depression, less life satisfaction, less self-esteem, and face drug and alcohol abuse (Kowalski, Giumetti, Schroeder, & Lattanner, 2014 ).
  • Both cyberbullies and targets of cyberbullying report less school satisfaction and achievement (Bernan & Li, 2007 ).
  • Motivations behind cyberbullying include a lack of confidence or desire to feel better about themselves, a desire for control, finding it entertaining, and retaliation (Hamm, Newton, & Chisholm, 2015).
  • Targets of cyberbullying have a greater chance of becoming bullies themselves, as being cyberbullied can lead to revenge bullying as a way to cope. And, cyberbullies have a greater risk at being bullied in return, resulting in a vicious cycle. Being a cyberbully contributes to a twenty-fold increase of also being a target of cyberbullying (Arslan, Savaser, Hallett, & Balci, 2012 ).
  • Because cyberbullying can occur anonymously, cyberbullies can act more aggressively as they feel there will be no consequences. In face-to-face bullying, the bully can view the impact as the attack happens, whereas cyberbullies cannot see any of the immediate outcomes, often resulting in further aggression (Kowalski, Giumetti, Schroeder, & Lattanner, 2014 ).
  • There are several challenges for addressing cyberbullying. Parents suggest they lack the technical skills to keep up with their children's’ online behaviors. Schools are educating about cyberbullying with policies, training, and assemblies, yet don’t always know when and how to intervene in cyberbullying when it happens off-campus. Law enforcement often can’t get involved unless there is clear evidence of a crime of threat to someone’s safety (Hinduja & Patchin, 2014).
  • Effective approaches to address cyberbullying requires effort from children, parents, schools, law enforcement, social media companies, and the community (Hinduja & Patchin, 2014).
  • A multilayered approach can best combat cyberbullying, including educational media campaigns, school-based programs, parental oversight and involvement, legislative action, and screening and evidence-based interventions by health care providers, especially pediatricians and mental health professionals (Aboujaoude, Savage, Starcevic, & Salame, 2015 ).
  • Parental involvement can significantly reduce cyberbullying perpetration and victimization. Parents can be taught how to openly discuss cyberbullying with their children, when to meet with school administrators, and when and how to work with a bully's parents, request that a Web site or service provider remove offending material or contact the police (Aboujaoude, Savage, Starcevic, & Salame, 2015 ).
  • Parents can also create an age-appropriate “technology use contract” that identifies behaviors that are and are not appropriate on the Internet, as well as consequences for inappropriate behaviors (Hinduja & Patchin, 2014 ).
  • The most common strategies reported by youth to cope with cyberbullying were passive, such as blocking the sender, ignoring or avoiding messages, and protecting personal information. Those who are cyberbullied are most likely to tell a friend about the incident. When asked what coping strategies those who were previously cyberbullied would encourage to someone being cyberbullied include blocking the sender, ignoring the messages, and telling someone, such as a friend. Getting retaliation was the least recommended strategy (Hamm, Newton, & Chisholm, 2015).
  • Only 33% of teens that were targets of cyberbullying told their parents or guardians about it, because children are worried they will face reduced Internet and cellphone privileges or other punishments (Juvonen & Gross, 2008 ).
  • Improving social networking safety skills can help prevent cyberbullying, such as understanding how cyberbullying can cause harm, making sure personal information is not available on social media, keeping social media accounts private, not “friending” people they do not know, and general efficacy (Wölfer, Schultze-Krumbholz, Zagorscak, Jäkel, Göbel, & Scheithauer, 2013 ).
  • If someone is being cyberbullied, he/she should keep all evidence of cyberbullying, keep a log with the dates and times of the instances, and report the instances (Hinduja & Patchin, 2014 ).
  • Bystanders to cyberbullying might not want to get involved because of the fear that the bullying will come onto them. However, by not doing anything, bystanders are passively encouraging the behavior. Bystanders can make a big difference by actively standing up against cyberbullies. Bystanders should intervene if they feel comfortable, tell a trusted adult after, and never encourage or contribute to the cyberbullying, such as laughing at comments, forwarding hurtful comments, or silently allowing it to continue (Hinduja & Patchin, 2014).

Ideas for Addressing Cyberbullying | PACERTalks About Bullying, Season 2, Episode 13

In this video, we are sharing tips for teens on how to address and prevent cyberbullying, and what to do if you see it happening online.

  • Cyberbullying Starts Earlier Than You Might Think — Here’s How to Protect Your Child Now
    With kids now owning smartphones as young as age 6, knowing the basics of cyber safety is key. Posted on October 2018.
  • What Every Parents Needs to Know About Protecting Their Child from Cyberbullying
    Bullying behavior has been around forever, but cyberbullying presents new challenges – and kids today are the first to experience them. Posted on October 2017.
  • Helping Your Child Understand Cyberbullying 
    It was just a generation ago that kids and teens were asking their parents for a phone line in their room so they could easily and privately connect with more friends. Today, a student’s desire to connect with friends has not changed, but the options for doing so have grown tremendously. While young people’s access to technology has evolved over the years, so has the way we communicate with children about online safety and cyberbullying. Posted to Spring 2017 edition of Our Children, the National PTA Magazine.
  • Cyberbullying: What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Children  - This 8-page booklet, sponsored by Century Link, has information for parents on how to address cyberbullying with your child and what steps to take if your child is being bullied online.
  • Safety in the Online Community: A conversation with your 13-year-old about Facebook and Instagram  – Facebook and Instagram partnered with PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center to create this guide to help parents talk with their teens about using social media. The guide covers setting up a new account, safety tips, and commonly asked questions.
  • What Parents Should Know About Bullying – This guide, created in partnership with Verizon, offers a comprehensive overview for parents to learn what they can do to address and prevent bullying, featuring a section on mobile and online safety.
  • Teens Against Bullying on Cyberbullying  – Teens Against Bullying is a place for middle and high school students to find ways to address bullying, to take action, and to be heard. This features a page on cyberbullying, giving students tips on how to prevent it and how to take action.
  • How to Prevent Cyberbullying: Hands Off the Keyboard Until You’re Calm! – YOUR TEEN for parents shared the following quotes in a recent interview: Cyberbullying manifests itself as teens using technology to “to hurt, harm, and humiliate” their peers, says Julie Hertzog, director of the National Bullying Prevention Center in Bloomington, MN. “In some ways,” says Hertzog, “online bullying can be even more devastating than traditional bullying, as an aggressor is able to access an audience 24/7 instead of being confined to the schoolyard, and the kid being bullied can’t escape the bullying.” And the hurt can be worse, as “the person being bullied can read and re-read a hurtful text or comment on social media, and experience the hurt over and over again,” Hertzog states.

Watch “Cyberbullying Dance”

Watch the cyberbullying awareness video illustrating the necessity to end and delete the cyberbullying message because “we are all more alike than we think.“ After viewing the video follow up with classroom discussion questions.

Cyberbullying: More Questions Answered By Kids | PACERTalks About Bullying, Episode 16

Age 13 is when teens are typically able to sign up for many social media accounts. But does cyberbullying only start at age 13 when teens start getting these accounts? In this video we ask kids about this question and about all things cyberbullying. Check out their amazing responses.

Watch “Social Media & Bullying: Using Technology to Keep Kids Safe”

Staff from PACER’s Simon Technology Center (STC) and National Bullying Prevention Center (NBPC) discuss the technology young people use, and the technology parents can use to keep them safe and raise responsible young digital citizens. Watch the archived live stream.

Used with permission of Pacer's National Bullying Prevention Center. Originally published here.

According to the PACER National Bullying Prevention Center, bullying can lead to mental health disorders and addiction in adulthood. Find resources that educate about the connections between bullying and substance abuse, at Addiction and Bullying.


Aboujaoude, E., Savage, M. W., Starcevic, V., & Salame, W. O. (2015). Cyberbullying: Review of an old problem gone viral. Journal of Adolescent Health, 57, 10-18 Retrieved from 
Arslan, S., Savaser, S., Hallett, V., & Balci, S. (2012). Cyberbullying among primary school students in Turkey: self-reported prevalence and associations with home and school life. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15, 527-533. Retrieved from 
Beran T, & Li, Q. (2007). The relationship between cyberbullying and school bullying. Journal of Student Wellbeing, 12, 15-33. Retrieved from 
Cyberbullying Research Center. (2016). What is cyberbullying? Retrieved from 
Feinberg, T., & Robey,  N. (2009). Cyberbullying: intervention and prevention strategies. National Association of School Psychologists, 38,  S4H15-1–S4H15-4. Retrieved from 
Hamm, M. P., Newton, A. S., & Chisholm, A. (2015). Prevalence and effect of cyberbullying on children and young people: A scoping review of social media students. JAMA Pediatrics, 169, 770-777. Retrieved from 
Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2014). Cyberbullying Identification, Prevention, and Response. Cyberbullying Research Center. Retrieved from 
Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2015). Bullying beyond the schoolyard: Preventing and responding to cyberbullying (2nd edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Retrieved from Publications. 
Hutson, E. (2016). Cyberbullying in adolescence: A concept analysis. Advances in Nursing Science, 39, 60-70. Retrieved from 
Juvonen, J., & Gross, E. F. (2008). Extending the school grounds? Bullying experiences in cyberspace. Journal of School Health, 78(9), 496-505. Retrieved from 
Kowalski, R. M., Giumetti, G. W., Schroeder, A. N., & Lattanner, M. R. (2014). Bullying in the Digital Age: A Critical Review and Meta-Analysis of Cyberbullying Research Among Youth. Psychological Bulletin, 140(4), 1073-1137. Retrieved from 
Patchin, J. W., & Hinduja, S. (2016). Summary of our cyberbullying research (2004-2016). Cyberbullying Research Center. Retrieved from 
Pearson, C. M., Andersson, L. M., & Porath, C. L. (2005). Workplace incivility. In S. Fox & P. E. Spector (Eds.), Counterproductive work behavior: Investigations of actors and targets (pp. 177-200). Retrieved from 
Pham, T., & Adesman, A. (2015). Teen victimization: Prevalence and consequences of traditional and cyberbullying. Current Opinion Pediatrics, 27, 748-756. Retrieved from 
Smith, P. K., Mahdavi, J., Carvalho, M., Fisher, S., Russell, S., & Tippett, N. (2008). Cyberbullying: Its nature and impact in secondary school pupils. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 49, 376-385. Retrieved from 
Wölfer, R., Schultze-Krumbholz, A., Zagorscak, P., Jäkel, A., Göbel, K., & Scheithauer, H. (2014). Prevention 2.0: Targeting cyberbullying @ school. Prevention Science, 15, 879-887. Retrieved from 
Youth Risk Behavior Survey. (2015). Trends in the prevalence of behaviors that contribute to violence. Centers for Disease Control. Retrieved from 

TheHopeLine Team
For over 30 years, TheHopeLine has been helping students and young adults in crisis. Our team is made up of writers and mental health professionals who care deeply about helping others.
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